Friday, December 29, 2017

Review of A Thousand Falling Crows by Larry Sweazy (Seventh Street Books, 2016)

June 1933, a chance encounter and chase with Bonnie and Clyde on a Texas road has left Ranger Sonny Burton with a badly damaged arm. A few months later, while still coming to terms with his enforced retirement the arm has to be amputated. Aged sixty two and a widower, Sonny is struggling to come to terms with a sedate life and trying to complete everyday tasks with one hand. He’s not left idle for long, however. A hospital janitor, Aldo Hernandez, persuades him to look for his wayward and missing daughter, Carmen. Aldo is afraid she might join two other young women who’ve been brutally murdered and left on the side of the road for the crows to feast on. In addition, on his first trip to the local store he witnesses a robbery-turned-homicide. Sonny is reluctant to act as detective given he no longer carries a badge, especially when his son – also a Texas Ranger – is sent to the area to hunt for the man killing young women. However, he’s prepared to help Aldo search for Carmen and if that helps find the store thieves-cum-murderers, or the serial killer preying on young women, then he’ll try to administer justice.

Set in depression-era, post-prohibition Texas, A Thousand Falling Crows tells the story of Sonny Burton’s semi-retirement from the Texas Rangers after losing an arm in a shootout with Bonnie and Clyde. Licking his wounds and struggling to come to terms with living with only one hand, he’s asked by a local Mexican janitor to search for his missing daughter. He’s reluctant to get involved, but Aldo Hernandez believes a ranger always remains one, regardless of what the service thinks. Sonny thus finds himself investigating two cases that might be related – a couple of deaths of young women, brutally attacked and left on the roadside, and a robbery-homicide conducted by two young Mexican twins. Sweazy tells the tale in an understated, poetic and engaging voice – much in keeping with his reserved lead character. The plot and pacing works well, hooking the reader quickly and drawing them through the narrative, and there’s interesting historicisation with respect to the depression era and race relations, and nice sense of place of the Texas panhandle in high summer. Interspersed in the tale are short interludes where the action is seen from the perspective of on-looking crows intrigued by human behaviour and the possibilities of a fresh meal. These interludes work surprisingly well and act as a nice counterpoint to the story. Overall, a compelling read in what might hopefully be a new series.

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